Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Connection Between Shakespeare and Maurice Sendak

 Call of the Wild

By Published: February 8, 2013

Years ago, when I was teaching at Berkeley, I received a peculiar note circulated among faculty members by the head of the humanities center. Maurice Sendak had been invited to give a public lecture, the note said, and he was scheduled to arrive on campus very soon. But he had asked for a NordicTrack machine and 12 down pillows, items that my colleague was scrambling to find. I had no down pillows to spare, but I did, as it happened, have a NordicTrack gathering dust in my basement. Thus began my acquaintance with Maurice, an acquaintance I treasured, though it never blossomed to the point where I dared ask him what he wanted with all of those pillows.
From "My Brother's Book"
Sendak's fairy tale elegy, "My Brother's Book."
Lysander and Hermia of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Maurice’s extraordinary books were very much in my mind back then. I had two little boys who were all but obsessed with them, but the truth is that it was as a Shakespearean still more than as a father of small children that I found and have continued to find his work wonderfully fruitful.

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

Though these magical lines linger between sleep and waking, and though they mingle fear and delight on a strange island, they are not from one of Sendak’s books. They come instead from Shakespeare’s “TempestOptions” and are spoken by Caliban, “the savage and deformed slave” of the magician Prospero. Prospero is a powerful European ruler, marooned on a remote ocean island where he commands the winged servant Ariel as well as Caliban, but the scene Shakespeare draws is oddly domestic: an old father and his young daughter, playing house together with the kitchen help of the island’s sole native. 

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